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Why Systems Awareness Might Be Your Most Valuable Leadership Tool


According to Forbes, organizational leadership is in a serious crisis. On average organizational longevity has decreased by 50 years, and organizations that are considered “start-ups” are experiencing rapid growth and success. Organizations that value social accountability and innovation are being received more positively than those that conduct business as usual. Consumers are supporting these socially conscious businesses as they become more aware and in tune with their values and the long term needs of their communities. As a result, leaders who can respond accordingly are gaining ground. So how is their leadership different?

In a recent study I conducted of over 500 organizations from 30 different industries, I examined the leadership competencies that led to higher scores of effectiveness as rated using a 360 instrument, the Leadership Circle Profile. Eighteen leadership competencies were considered including constructs like emotional intelligence, collaboration, and control. Out of these 18 competencies, leaders who attained high scores for systems awareness positively correlated with the leadership effectiveness scores of organizations.

So what is systems awareness and why is it so valuable?

The term “systems awareness” can convey a variety of meanings. In terms of leadership, it has been broadly described as understanding how the parts fit into the whole. In practical terms, it means that a leader isn’t looking solely at the goal or vision but understands how their team works together, the team's function within the organization, and the best way to strategically build long-term goals based on this information. Systems awareness includes systems thinking, a concept popularized by Peter Senge, whereby individuals engage in feedback loops (double loop learning) involving self-reflection, relevant community reflection, and objective expert insight. However, systems awareness expands systems thinking by incorporating ways of acting and leading that promote community concern and take into account sustainability and long-term impacts.

So as we race to keep up with technology and innovation, systems awareness might be our most valuable leadership tool. Here are some questions that you can integrate into your own leadership reflections in order to increase your systems awareness:

1. Do you have multiple sources of feedback informing your decisions? Engage your employees, those impacted by your efforts, and an objective third party (perhaps a professional association) in your product or service. These forms of feedback can be informal or integrated into a business analysis but keep communication open and accessible.

2. Are you watching global trends? In an increasingly global economy, leaders need to look outside of their industry and understand how external factors are making an impact on their organization’s future. The next disruptive force is typically not within your current worldview.

3. What are you doing to make this world a better place? Consumers are becoming more aware of their purchasing power. Companies that support social good are rapidly gaining favor. Select a cause that you can support or think strategically about how your current organization’s product or service can make a difference.

4. How are you encouraging a progressive organizational learning culture? Investing in your company’s future may mean making sacrifices upfront, but organizations that support employee growth and organizational learning see more return in terms of creativity and innovation.

“No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it. You must learn to see the world anew” – Einstein

Follow Crystal on Twitter @CrystalLD24

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